United States-China Collaboration on Health and Agriculture in Africa
Publish Date：2011-06-01 04:15:21
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Health and agriculture, sectors where African countries receive considerable assistance from bilateral donors and international organizations, are the most appropriate ones for collaboration by the United States and China. (Peacekeeping is another area, but beyond the scope of this conference.) Both countries have substantial experience, positive and negative, in Africa in the health and agricultural sectors and have some comparative advantages in the way they can support these sectors. In addition, by collaborating on assistance to improve health and agriculture, it should be possible to alleviate the concerns of some African leaders who fear that the United States and China may try to gang up on them for their own purposes. At least a few African leaders have taken umbrage with the concept that two major powers are collaborating on matters related to Africa.
Collaboration by the United States and China in an effort to improve life for Africans would seem to be an obvious winning combination. While it may be obvious, experience has shown that it is not easy. Discussions between China and the United States that began in 2007 for assisting agricultural production in Angola have gone nowhere. The reasons this initiative did not result in a cooperative project are not clear, although there may have been little interest on the Angolan side. During congressional testimony in 2008, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, James Swan, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Thomas Christensen, identified as areas for China-U.S. cooperation UN peacekeeping operations, countering endemic diseases such as malaria and joint development projects in the agricultural sector.[i] Also in 2008, U.S.-China talks in Beijing involving Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, raised the possibility of cooperation in building Africa’s infrastructure and improving its agriculture and health sectors. Subsequent discussions with China near the end of the Bush administration for pursuing security sector reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and cooperation on irrigation in Ethiopia have produced no results so far.[ii] Again, the reasons are hazy although lack of interest by key American and Chinese personnel in the field contributed to the lack of progress.
There have been, however, some examples of U.S.-China development collaboration in Africa. The two countries joined forces in efforts to eradicate malaria in Liberia and supported UN peacekeeping projects, including construction of the military barracks at Bonga. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf praised the cooperation. Chinese Ambassador Zhou Yuxiao and American Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield also underscored this cooperation involving both countries.[iii] Sylvester M. Grigsby, Liberian Deputy Minister for International Cooperation and Economic Integration in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commented to the author that China and the United States have a history of working cooperatively in Liberia.[iv] In Ethiopia, U.S. Peace Corps volunteers and Chinese volunteers collaborated in the agricultural sector, although this came to an end with the arrival of a new U.S. Peace Corps director and the downsizing of the Chinese volunteer program.[v]
Chinese companies are eligible to bid on projects funded by grants from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and have won a number of these contracts in Africa. For example, the China New Era International Engineering Corporation won a contract as supervising consultant for a section of road in Tanzania.[vi] There has been, however, a recent decision by the MCC to limit future contracts to non-state-owned companies. This will have a greater impact on Chinese companies than those from most other parts of the world.[vii] Finally, there is military collaboration as part of an effort to combat Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. American officials have spoken favorably of this cooperation.[viii]
One of the hurdles for greater United States-China collaboration comes from the African side. There is a suspicion among some African officials that any cooperation by the United States and China is not in the best interest of the African country. These officials prefer to negotiate individually with donor countries so that they have maximum leverage and more options. They view China as a country that does not impose political conditions, other than acceptance of the “One China” policy, on its foreign aid. The United States, on the other hand, often imposes conditions concerning good governance, human rights and economic policy reform. Some African officials believe that collaborative aid programs will result in political conditionality insisted upon by the United States.[ix] Although this attitude is not pervasive among African officials, it is sufficiently troublesome that if the United States and China agree to engage in collaborative projects, the United States will have to address it. The other alternative is to identify countries like Liberia that seem to welcome Chinese-American cooperation and focus on them.
There are some procedural and bureaucratic obstacles to collaboration. China does not have a centralized foreign assistance agency; responsibility for administering foreign aid is widely disbursed, which makes it difficult for donors to coordinate with their Chinese counterparts.[x] Although the United States has a more centralized Agency for International Development (USAID), it has become somewhat more complex with the creation of the MCC. The United States is much more transparent with information and statistics about its global assistance. Although China made a step forward with the recent release of its white paper on foreign aid, it remains unnecessarily stingy with statistics about its assistance program and tends to treat this information as a state secret.[xi] Until China is willing to share more information about its aid programs, it will be difficult to have truly effective collaborative projects. Although it should not impact the ability of the United States and China to collaborate on foreign assistance projects, it is important to understand that nearly all American assistance to Africa is in the form of grants while most Chinese assistance constitutes loans, albeit low interest. U.S. assistance to Africa is often subcontracted to non-governmental and civil society organizations. It also works with U.S. private philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation. This practice is not common in the case of China’s aid and some African civil society organizations are even skeptical about Chinese engagement.[xii] On the other hand, both the United States and China have good relations with the African Union and African sub-regional organizations. China recently announced it will promote regional and sub-regional aid cooperation.[xiii]
Although China has greatly improved its willingness to participate in donor coordination that occurs in the United Nations and its related agencies, it avoids participation in the OECD and other western-led organizations. The Chinese are also reluctant to participate in donor coordination groups that meet regularly in African capitals and tend to be led by western countries.[xiv] Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete during a meeting in Washington lavished praise on the multidonor antimalarial program in his country. When asked if China, which is also working in Tanzania to combat malaria, is part of the multidonor coordination, Kikwete replied in the negative but said he would welcome participation by China in the effort.[xv] One western aid organization that has an office in Beijing, is anxious to work with China and seems to have had more success in collaborating with the Chinese is the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.[xvi]
Collaboration in the health sector is a good choice for several reasons. The need for improved health care is enormous. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 58 percent of the population has access to an improved water source, 31 percent has access to improved sanitation and 73 percent of children have been immunized for measles and tetanus. More than one-quarter of all children are underweight; the region has by far the highest tuberculosis rate and prevalence of HIV in the world and the lowest life expectancy at birth.[xvii] There are at least 300 million acute cases of malaria each year globally, resulting in more than a million deaths and 90 percent of these occur in Africa, mostly in young children. Malaria accounts for 40 percent of Africa’s public health expenditure.[xviii] In addition, Africa remains subject to a host of less common but debilitating diseases such as meningitis, yellow fever, cholera, hookworm, guinea worm and schistosomiasis.
China and the United States have a long history of providing health care assistance to Africa. China began sending health teams to Africa in 1963, resulting in a program that remains highly popular and apparently effective. By 2009, China had sent 18,000 medical personnel to forty-six different countries and treated, it claimed, 200 million patients. Most African countries pay the medical team’s expenses, such as international airfare, staff stipends and even the cost of some medicine and equipment brought by the team. In the case of the poorest African countries, China covers the costs of the team’s travel and equipment and medicine that it brings.[xix] China has also had success with traditional Chinese medicine, which is often compatible with African traditional medicine.[xx] In more recent years, China announced that it will build, staff and equip thirty hospitals and train 3,000 doctors, nurses and managers for these facilities. It is constructing thirty malaria treatment centers and providing antimalarial drugs such as artemisinin. China is donating $14 million to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, although it receives far more from that fund than it contributes.[xxi]
The health sector has long been an important component of American assistance to Africa. HIV/AIDS programs represent 31 percent of all USAID development assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa. USAID focuses on primary prevention and on expanding its coverage of services, including those for orphans and vulnerable children. USAID provides funds to increase the availability, effectiveness and access to quality health care and on strengthening programs by developing state-of-the-art, Africa-appropriate approaches to health improvement.[xxii] The President’s Malaria Initiative aims to reduce mortality by half in target countries. USAID also supports water and sanitation development.[xxiii] Some of the MCC grants to African countries support delivery of essential health services, local health services, water and sanitation improvement and maternal and child health care.[xxiv] While the dollar value of U.S. aid to the health sector in Africa is much higher than China’s, the contribution China has made over the years is impressive.
The United States and China have particular strengths that they can bring to a cooperative effort in the health sector. Within the health sector, countering malaria seems to be one of the best areas for collaboration. There has already been cooperation in Liberia. Both China and the United States give a high priority to antimalarial efforts. China is one of the world’s major producers of artemisinin and has a factory in Tanzania that produces the antimalarial drug. It is a highly effective medicine for preventing malaria when used in combination with other drugs and as part of a holistic program that includes insecticide-treated bed nets. USAID supports such a holistic program and the Clinton Foundation has also purchased artemisinin from Chinese suppliers. This is not the kind of cooperative program that is likely to lead to political conditionality from the U.S. side, thus avoiding potential African objections.[xxv]
Neglected tropical diseases, particularly hookworm infection and schistosomiasis that each afflict 200 million Africans, are another area for U.S.-China collaboration. USAID and the Gates Foundation are working to reduce both diseases in Africa, and China has experience in combating them. It is also among the largest producers of praziquantel, the principal drug for treating schistosomiasis. Merck is another major producer. Although praziquantel costs only eight cents a pill, it is still too expensive for most African countries. Drug companies have donated significant quantities of the medication, but the need is far greater. This is a situation where China might even be in the best position to take the lead. At a minimum, a multidonor program that includes China and the United States should step up efforts to counter neglected tropical diseases such as hookworm and schistosomiasis.[xxvi] Other possible areas for collaboration are improving nutrition and pandemic preparedness. Both countries have experience in these areas.
Some questions have been raised about the consistency in the quality of Chinese manufactured medicines. It is important to know if there is a program for testing the medicine to assure that the dosages are appropriate. There have been issues with adulterated medicine from private companies in several Asian nations, including China. Increased reliance on medication such as artemisinin and praziquantel from China should take these concerns into account. It may just be a question of better information sharing.[xxvii]
Agriculture forms the backbone of most African economies and yet remains largely inefficient. Of all world regions, Sub-Saharan Africa has by far the lowest use of fertilizer per hectare of arable land and the fewest number of tractors per 100 square kilometers of arable land. In both cases, these numbers fell in 2003-2005 as compared with 1990-1992. Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural productivity (ratio of agricultural value added to the number of workers in agriculture) in 2003-2005 was $278 compared to $406 for farmers in South Asia, the next lowest region. More importantly, the figure for Sub-Saharan Africa gained only $16 over the 1990-1992 level while other regions of the world showed much higher gains.[xxviii]
Some 60 percent of the African labor force works in agriculture and is still not able to grow enough food to feed its people. By contrast, 2 percent of the labor force in the United States produces enough food to feed the U.S. population, sell large quantities on the world market and supply food aid to many countries around the world, especially Africa.[xxix] China has also had considerable success with agriculture; it feeds 20 percent of the world’s population on only about 8 percent of the world’s arable land and grows about 95 percent of what it consumes.[xxx]
This is another sector where China and the United States have considerable experience in Africa. Chinese agricultural cooperation began in Guinea in 1959. By 2006, China had undertaken about 200 projects and sent some 10,000 technicians to the continent. Since the mid-1990s, China has encouraged large businesses such as China’s General Farming Group Company, China’s Fishing Company and China’s Animal Husbandry Company to invest in Africa. Chinese projects have included paddy-rice, cotton, sugar, tea, soya bean, fruit, animal husbandry and fish farming. While China’s more basic agricultural technology generally worked well in Africa, the turn-key projects often were not maintained properly by African governments and many failed. This caused China to change its approach to a more businesslike approach.[xxxi] Increasingly, Chinese agricultural assistance involves training, technology transfer and investment rather than state-to-state aid projects.[xxxii]
Over the past five years, China promised to send 3,000 agricultural experts and technical staff overseas, which will include fifty agro-technology teams for Africa, and build twenty agricultural technology demonstration centers in Africa. China announced it will train 2,000 agro-technicians for African countries. China also agreed to contribute a modest $30 million to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to establish a trust fund for projects and activities to help developing countries enhance agricultural productivity.[xxxiii] China’s recent assistance to Angola’s agriculture and fisheries sectors, for example, offers a useful account of the changing nature of its aid.[xxxiv]
U.S. support for agriculture in Africa has waxed and waned over the years, but is back in fashion with the Obama administration. Like China, the United States has experienced its share of failures. In the late 1980s, for example, the author visited a USAID project in the northeast corner of Burkina Faso. It was to have been an enormous cattle ranch patterned after the King ranch in Texas. By the time of the author’s visit, there was nothing left except a few headquarters buildings and several sections of fencing still standing. The project failed to take into account advancing desertification. But both China and the United States have learned from their successes and failures and agriculture remains a critical sector for Africa.
Current U.S. agricultural priorities in Africa are reducing hunger, combating rural poverty, promoting economic growth and protecting the environment. This requires programs that improve the technical, economic, legal and trade conditions under which farmers and agribusinesses operate. USAID programs that address these issues include the Initiative to End Hunger in Africa (IEHA), support for the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP), the Sustainable Tree Crop Program (STCP) and the Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (SAKSS). The primary objective of IEHA is to rapidly and sustainably increase agricultural growth and rural incomes in Sub-Saharan Africa. This involves providing, among other help, technical assistance and training to promote science and technology in key commodities, expanding market and trade opportunities, and strengthening producer, processor and trade organizations. The principal goal of the African-led CAADP is to achieve a 6 percent annual growth rate in agriculture. STCP helps farmers conserve their tree crop resources, increase the value of their crops by using new varieties and promote better processing to raise incomes.[xxxv] MCC grants have also made substantial contributions to improving food security in more than a half dozen African countries.[xxxvi]
SAKSS collects data and provides analytical tools that contribute to national monitoring and evaluation systems and supplying information to African governments, international research institutes, other donors and the private sector. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is taking a key role in implementing this initiative. Individual countries, Nigeria for example, and regional organizations such as the East African Community and the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa are using SAKSS in combination with CAADP.[xxxvii]
Between the extensive Chinese and American engagement in assisting Africa’s agricultural sector, it should not be difficult to identify several areas for bilateral collaboration. If bilateral cooperation is too large of a hurdle, then it can be done in the context of the African Union, sub-regional African organizations or international organizations such as the FAO or IFPRI, with which both countries have long experience. In some respects, China’s agricultural policies since 1980 may be more appropriate for Africa than the American farm experience.[xxxviii] On the other hand, a strong U.S. background in areas such as agricultural extension service, farmer’s cooperatives and credit unions, agricultural research, farm management and market development have much to offer African agriculture.
Viewed from an American perspective, U.S. State Department and USAID officials have concluded that collaboration with China on assistance to Africa is not easy. (Chinese counterparts may well have come to the same conclusion as they assess their interaction with Americans.) The dialogue has been underway for about six years and has produced little. Part of the problem is the difficulty of coordination among the numerous Chinese bureaucracies engaged in foreign assistance, although coordination within a single American assistance organization is not so simple either.[xxxix]
In order to enhance the prospects for collaboration, it will be necessary to take account of the challenges cited earlier, especially identifying projects or African countries where U.S. political conditionality does not become a deal breaker. China may also insist on projects that support Millennium Challenge goals, although this should not pose a problem for the United States. When the European Union looked at the issue of collaboration with China, it concluded that western donors will have to start at a very technical level with small-scale engagements in areas such as health or agriculture and will then have to obtain the support of the highest political level in China.[xl]
[i] Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, 4 June 2008.
[ii] David H, Shinn, “China’s Engagement in Africa,” in U.S. Policy beyond the Bush Years, eds. Jennifer G. Cooke and J. Stephen Morrison (Washington: CSIS, 2009), p. 151. 7 May 2011 email from senior State Department official.
[iii] All three persons made these comments at the Kendeja Resort outside Monrovia on 24 February 2010 during the Africa-China-United States Trilateral Dialogue Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility.
[iv] Remarks made on 25 February 2010 at the Kendeja Resort outside Monrovia.
[v] 7 May 2011 email from senior State Department official.
[vi] Press release issued by the Tanzanian Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs in October 2010.
[vii] Comment by MCC official on 27 April 2011 at the Corporate Council on Africa in Washington.
[viii] Christopher Bodeen, “US Praises China Anti-piracy Role off Somalia,” Associated Press (28 February 2009).
[x] See Deborah Brautigam, The Dragon’s Gift (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 107-114. Sven Grimm, “Engaging with China in Africa-Trilateral Cooperation as an Option? EDC2020 Policy Brief, no. 9 (February 2011), p. 3, www.edc2020.eu/112.0.html.
[xiii] “China May Expand Its Foreign Aid in Future: Vice Minister,” Xinhua (26 April 2011).
[xv] Public meeting in Washington on 27 August 2008.
[xvi] “UK Seeks China Aid Partnership in Africa,” BBC Online (8 October 2010).
[xvii] The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2009 (Washington), pp. 104, 112, 116 and 124.
[xix] Drew Thompson, “China’s Soft Power in Africa: From the ‘Beijing Consensus’ to Health Diplomacy,” China Brief, vol. 5, no. 21 (13 October 2005), pp. 3-4.
[xx] Elisabeth Hsu, “The Medicine from China Has Rapid Effects: Chinese Medicine Patients in Tanzania,” Anthropology and Medicine, vol. 9, no 3 (2002), pp. 291-313. David H. Shinn, “Africa, China and Health Care,” Inside AISA, nos. 3 and 4 (October/December 2006), pp. 15-16.
[xxi] White paper on “China’s Foreign Aid.” For a good summary, for example, of China’s health care assistance to Angola, see Carine Kiala, “China-Angola Aid Relations: Strategic Cooperation for Development?” South African Journal of International Affairs, vol. 17, no. 3 (December 2010), pp. 317-318. For an analysis of China’s aid to the health sector, see Jeremy Youde, “China’s Health Diplomacy in Africa,” China: An International Journal, vol. 8, no. 1 (March 2010), pp. 151-163.
[xxv] Shinn, “China’s Engagement in Africa,” p. 157.
[xxvii] Comments by health specialists at a conference on U.S. and Chinese approaches to health sector development assistance in Africa hosted by George Washington University on 2 June 2010.
[xxviii] The World Bank, pp. 140 and 144.
[xxix] Virginia DeLancey, “The Economies of Africa,” in Understanding Contemporary Africa, eds. April A. Gordon and Donald L. Gordon (Boulder, CA: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007), p. 136.
[xxx] Brautigam, The Dragon’s Gift, p. 234.
[xxxi] Yuan Wu, China and Africa (Beijing: China International Press, 2006), pp. 56-68. Law Yu Fai, Chinese Foreign Aid (Saarbrücken, Germany: Verlag Breitenbach Publishers, 1984), pp. 230-238. Author’s meeting in Beijing on 10 January 2007 with a senior official of the China State Farms Agribusiness Corporation.
[xxxii] “Full Text of Wu Bangguo’s Speech at the China-Africa Business Conference in Cairo,” Xinhua (21 May 2007). For a broader discussion of Chinese agricultural assistance to Africa, see Brautigam, The Dragon’s Gift, pp. 232-252.
[xxxiii] White paper on “China’s Foreign Aid.”
[xxxix] Comments by USAID official at conference on 13 January 2011 sponsored by CSIS on U.S.-China global health cooperation.
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